The Blog

Today We're All Charlie Hebdo, but We Need to Understand We're Also All Neighbours Now

Now I'm not siding with the 'we brought this on ourselves' lot. What I'm saying is we just haven't got to grips with the fact rapid developments in communications technology and transport have well and truly moved the goalposts.

So. As the situation in Paris continues to unfold we've had the usual calls for Muslims to condemn/apologise for the killings and Nigel Farage talking of a "fifth column" within our societies and quoting Martin Niemöller's anti-fascist 'they came for the Jews' poem.

Leaving aside the fact Farage appropriating one of the simplest, strongest and most famous texts expressing why we all have a duty to stand against everything he stands for to justify persecuting Muslims and immigrants and attack 'multiculturalism' making me feel physically ill - it's all bollocks.

Give 1,000 people a sword and walk them one at a time into a room containing a cowering child. One of them will chop the kid's head off. They're called nutters.

Maybe they're someone damaged by abuse when they were a child, maybe just fuckin' evil. Probably either really thick or really smart. Quite likely young and full of passion and idealism.

They'll find skinhead gangs, radical Imams, evangelical Christian groups who bomb abortion clinics. Or maybe they'll sit in a darkened room playing ultraviolent computer games then go to a school with an automatic weapon; watch rape-porn before roaming the streets looking for prostitutes to kill; or scour white pride websites before constructing a pipe bomb and heading for the local mosque.

You see, you get your lone nutter and your needs the approval of his nutter peers nutter. The big problem is the Mansons, bin Ladens and Paul Goldings of this world are expert at grooming these lost souls for greatness. And unfortunately the radical Islam types brainwashing the perpetrators of atrocities in the West have plenty of ammunition to hand.

Now I'm not siding with the 'we brought this on ourselves' lot. What I'm saying is we just haven't got to grips with the fact rapid developments in communications technology and transport have well and truly moved the goalposts.

And one of the consequences is the disparity in our reaction to atrocities at home and atrocities elsewhere in the world lays very bare the different value we place on the deaths of European, American, Australian and so on lives and those of swarthy folk in foreign lands.

Out of sight, out of mind just doesn't apply to bombing campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq any more. A young, damaged, idealistic, passionate young man who has only ever found acceptance at the mosque, feels threatened by the society he has grown up in but never part of and who has been told he can do something truly important is going to spot it.

And for the smarter ones there's Tony Blair - a man with the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children on his hands - defending and 'advising' Egypt's military dictator, who came to power by annulling the democratic elections we claim prove the superiority of our society over those of the Middle East.

Children in Kabul - photo Mark Knobil

I'm not saying the West doesn't have a role to play in Middle Eastern politics. But simply that what we do do is, in the world of cheap airfares and social media, going to come back and bite us on the ass if we get it wrong. The good old days when you could pursue one policy and home and a completely contradictory one in the colonies because they were out of sight and mind are over.

Iran is a great example. The west supported then deposed the Shah, deposed the democratically elected prime minister who followed and ended up with Ayatollah Khomeini. Oops. Now a couple of hundred years ago, Britain could have sent in 60,000-odd troops to sort the whole mess out, and bugger the natives.

Not really feasible these days. Apart from anything else, European and American lives are so, so much more valuable than those of the citizens of Muslim countries, that we have drones and bombers in the air instead of boots on the ground.

It doesn't fit with the simplistic, us versus them, clash of civilisations/religions/values narrative that suits people like Farage. But it's a fact. The world has got an awful lot smaller and we cannot close our eyes to what happens elsewhere - whether it's in our name or not - any more. If only because the hypocrisy it demonstrates is easy ammunition for those who look to terrorise not only the West, but the societies where their ideology originates.

The bottom line is if we want to defuse and discredit the justifications of radical Islam for atrocities committed in our countries, we need to start giving equal weight to lives lost elsewhere, be they at the hands of our armies or at the hands of Islamic State, despotic governments, hunger or disease.

Loving thy neighbour as yourself doesn't just mean watering next door's pot plants while they're away or being sympathetic when someone chucks a brick through the window of the Pakistani-owned newsagent down the road any more. We are all neighbours.

Before You Go